Connessione – Recognition and respect for the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena – Systemic thinking
In recent months, more than ever, we have been hearing about the VUCA world – a world of unpredictability and complexity. There are many examples and comparisons. Most often we hear about a stone which, when thrown into water, produces a series of circles that expand.
In the digital world we live in, everything is connected to everything. Information is transmitted at incredible speeds, dozens of channels and in a variety of forms. On the screens we can see a picture of a dish that was just tasted by someone in another part of the world. It won’t be long before we can smell the screen. Management decisions in North America affect the children of workers in Southeast Europe, as well as in the Far East. The price of oil, over the price of flour and sugar, affects the quality of cakes that a mother makes for her child in South Africa. No one and nothing can exist in isolation.The sooner leaders understand this, the more sustainable their leadership will be. And thus more influential.
The principle of “learning organizations” is an attempt to apply the idea of totality and interdependence in organizations as well. Complex systems, such as multinational companies, require nurturing and understanding relationships, recognizing patterns and adapting to emerging situations. Peter Drucker said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Procedures, goals, KPIs, targets, decisions, reports… .. all this falls into the water when the system as a whole, is not healthy from the inside. The health of the system is taken care of by the leader.
The best leaders have the ability to see relationships and patterns. To assess which patterns are healthy and useful in the system, as well as to create and adopt unknown, new, and useful patterns. It is often, much more important for the system to “unlearn” – to throw out behaviors and routines that are useless in the new working conditions, than to learn – to introduce new patterns and behaviors into the system. It is not uncommon for some procedures or rules to be applied without anyone asking themselves: what are these rules for? Which process does it support? What is its purpose? Are we better / more accurate / faster / more creative… thanks to this rule? It happens that some rules, created many years ago, have long ceased to serve their purpose because the way of doing business, the market system has changed. It also happens that, out of fear of failure and inadequacy, or simply out of rigidity, leaders maintain a culture of an orderly system, to the detriment of the health of that same system.
Very effective, though sometimes perceived as “weird” exercises that I do with leaders (both with individuals and top management) relate to looking at the company from the perspective of the body metaphor issue. Leaders are invited to “translate” all sectors, departments, branches and directorates into the language of parts of one body – organs, tissues, cells, fluids…. It is surprising how much this metaphor provokes lively discussion, in-depth insight and, finally, elevation of the system and systematic observation of almost every position in the company. Thus, for some, IT becomes the bloodstream, sales – hands, finances – the heart. The lymph, stomach, brain and eyes get their proper parts in the organization.
After that, the “harder” part follows. Answers to the questions:
• Is the head in balance with the body?
• What quality of food do you take into your body?
• How well do you cook food?
• How is your circulation? And the pressure?
• How is your spine?
• What are your sharpest senses?
• What do you need to make your eyes work better?
• Are there chronic diseases in the system?
• Do you even try to stay in good shape?
When we have the time and mood, I invite them to draw this organism – organization on a large paper and connect all parts of the system with lines of appropriate thickness. As a rule, some links remain out of paper. We draw them together. These are usually the connections that contribute:
a) strong, supportive cultures based on trust and high engagement
b) unhealthy behaviors, lack of trust, dissatisfaction and low engagement
Understanding the interdependence and the type of influence that the elements of the system have on each other is the key to cooperation and living a corporate culture. And, thus, the achievement of goals becomes a logical ending.
Leaders who develop the ability to spot patterns that contribute to or threaten success, to anticipate systemic responses to external influences, and to make, often, difficult decisions about systemic changes are those who lead their organizations in a sustainable way. Systemic thinking in companies can be practiced in four pillars
1. company vision
2. company goals
3. company values
4. company purpose
With four pillars, fully defined, the system can stand (seemingly) stable. That stability is short-term and conditioned by external influences. Leaders who view the system, rather than isolated parts of the company, know how to amortize and use those influences for the growth and development of the organization, before perceiving them as a threat. And isn’t that the role of a leader? Don’t all those, whose names are inscribed in the rectangles of the organizational chart, expect exactly that from the leader: to be able to lead, when the challenges and threats are extremely strong?
Finally, one of Leonardo’s wisdoms:
To the ambitious, for whom neither the blessings of life nor the beauty of the world are enough to be satisfied, as penance comes the fact that life is wasted, without possessing the blessings but the beauties of the world.